The discovery of insulin in 1921 has been one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. It changed the lives of children with type 1 diabetes (T1D) who need insulin to survive. It also helped people with type 2 diabetes (T2D) who need insulin to control their blood sugar. Three companies control over 95% of the global insulin supply.
Access to insulin is a big problem
80% of people with diabetes live in developing countries. Globally, one in two people with T2D do not have access to insulin. In low/middle-income countries, people continue to die too early because they cannot get insulin. In Sweden and Australia, people with T1D are expected to live 10-13 years less than people without T1D. In rural and urban Mozambique, Africa, a child diagnosed with diabetes is expected to live just 1-4 years.
Insulin can be too expensive
Many patients from poor countries have to pay for insulin with their own money. In Africa, insulin is not available in many health institutions. Few African countries cover insulin for those who cannot afford it. In those countries, having a child with T1D is a huge challenge if the family cannot afford insulin. This has led many patients to ration their daily doses of insulin. For example, patients skip insulin injections or not take enough to make each dose last longer. Because insulin is mostly imported to Africa, the cost of transportation, storage, and import fees all increase the price of insulin. The use of insulin remains a major issue in Africa where poor diabetes knowledge, beliefs, traditional medicine and poverty are barriers.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, we need to help patients in disadvantaged communities. Where people live and how much money people have should not determine who lives or dies because of lack of access to insulin.